Dame Honor Alexander-Harrington is the Hero of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, having fought for the honor and survival of the Star Kingdom from the very first time she joined the Royal Manticoran Navy. Now, Manticore has been attacked by the Sollies, or the Empire of Sol. But contrary to the beliefs of the Sollies, who think their Navy is the be-all and end-all of fighting forces in the stars, they have been left behind by the modern advances of the Manticoreans and the Havenites, who have been fighting for over 50 Terran years. Thanks to their military advances, the Sollies may have more and larger ships, but the Manties and Havenites have better, more efficient ships.
Another problem is that the Sollies, without most of their empire knowing it, are in the pocket of the genetic slavers known as the Mesans, and their leaders, an organization known as Manpower. Recently, the Havenite Master Spy, Victor Cachat, and the Manticorean soldier Anton Zilwicki, went to Mesa to investigate the attempted assassination of Queen Berry of Torch. Both the Havenites and the Manticoreans were implicated in the assassination to each others governments, and it caused a new outbreak of hostilities between the two nations, but Victor Cachat knew his side wasn't to blame, and Anton Zilwicki knew the same for the Manticoreans. They went to Mesa to investigate for themselves.
There were several further battles between Manticore and Haven, including a devastating attack on the Homeworld of Manticore by the Havenites, but thanks to the skill and fury of Honor Harrington, the Havenite fleet was blown to hell and gone- almost completely obliterated. One of the people killed was the lover of the Havenite President, Eloise Pritchart, a man named Javier Giscard. He died in the attack, but Manticore realizes that they cannot fight a war on two fronts, Sollie and Haven, so to minimize the problems, they can either destroy the Havenites completely, or restart the peace talks that were ended by the attempted assassination of Queen Berry. Honor, who knows more than anyone just how honorable Eloise Pritchart is, is sent by her Queen, Elizabeth, to bring a message to the Havenites- broker peace or be completely destroyed to ensure Manticore's security in the war with the Sollies.
Though Honor isn't anything like a diplomat, she enters Havenite space and proceeds to lay out what is happening to Eloise Pritchart, who really wants peace, and who had been fighting the excesses of the Legislaturalists who were once in power in Haven, as well as the Seizure of Power by the former spy St. Just. Pritchart knows that Manticore can do exactly what it is claiming- Haven has no ships or fleets left, and they can be rolled over unopposed if the Manties feel like it. And so peace talks begin. But not every Havenite has fond feelings for the Manties, and some elements in the government want to hinder or block the peace talks for their own reasons- mainly grabs for power at the expense of everything else. Luckily, Honor's empathy can "read" those who want to be a problem, and she can undercut their arguments by hinting at the real reason they want to throw a spanner into the works.
Meanwhile, in the Empire of Sol, the Mesans aren't standing still. They bring out several bits of manufactured evidence to "prove" that the Manties attacked first and without provocation at the Battle of New Tuscany. At the same time, the Sollies in the War Department, stung and reeling from the news that not only was their Fleet so profoundly beaten at New Tuscany, but that the Admiral in charge actually surrendered to what they view as a bunch of "Jumped-up Neobarbs", that they decide that such a defeat must be avenged, and make plans to attack the Manties with a huge armada of ships.
Also during this time comes the news of a terrible attack on Mesa by the Manties, resulting in the setting off of a nuclear bomb in a public park full of families by Anton Zilwicki, further inflaming public opinion of the Manties. And then the Sollies open fire on the planetary defenses of the planet Flax, in the Talbott Quadrant in an attempt to teach the Manties a "Lesson". Unfortunately for them, the rumors of the tech advantage over the Sollies are more than confirmed when Missile Barrages from Pods decimate the fleet, including the Super Dreadnought of the Admiral in charge of the Fleet, which disintegrates under the pounding from the missile pods.
But the Mesans haven't left anything up to chance, and since they know that Manticore's construction abilities can far outstrip anything the Sollies have, and their technology gives them a decided advantage in any war, act to eliminate that advantage, sending stealthed missile pods that destroy the Manticoreans space fleet construction ability, and those of the Benjaminites as well. Now, Manticore is grieving, shorn of its fleet construction ability as well as its ability to make more missiles for the war, and their longtime allies can't help, because their own production facilities are gone as well. All seems lost... but does Manticore have another ally that can step into the breach? Will they have to face the Sollies on their own? And where do they put the many, many prisoners of War that they have no place for anywhere in their systems?
And has Mesa finally bitten off more than they can chew? When Victor Cachat and Anton Zilwicki finally resurface, the rest of the galaxy thinks they are dead. But the truth of the Mesans, and what they have been doing and are responsible for, may finally shock the galaxy out of its former beliefs, and draw longtime enemies together and turn them into allies at last. But will their alliance come in time?
Whoa. This book had several turns of Fortune for both sides of the war, and some of them were completely unforseen, and completely shocking. To be sure, I had rather forseen the drubbing that the Sollies took at the hands of Michelle Henke. Anyone who didn't see it coming after the battle of Tuscany had to have their head up their rear end- The Manties hold the tech advantage and their ships can whip hundreds of times their own weights in Sollies and tigers, so to speak. But the assault on their homeworld and manufacturing by the Mesans came as a complete shock, as did the ending of the book, but the second in a good way.
I loved reading this book, even when I was upset at the results of the attack on the Manticorean production facility, However, in the same way, the Mesans just assured their own destruction. It's never wise to try and cripple an angry tiger and fail, and I look forward to seeing the payback for their sins come home to roost. It was also nice to see the Sollies, who treat every other nation in the universe as "Jumped up barbarians" compared to themselves, come to a great fall. Their admirals and officials want to go to war with Manticore because they don't want to be in the wrong, and if they can defeat Manticore and rewrite what actually happened at New Tuscany, then they can say they weren't, no matter the truth of the situation. And, as you can imagine, that sort of thing offends me greatly.
I am looking for the Mesans to be destroyed. I want the Sollies to realize that they are wrong, and perhaps realize that the other Star Nations are not simply barbarians who can be brushed aside at will by the humungous Sollie fleets. I only wonder how long it will take for those in charge to realize that. Not too soon, I hope, because they deserve to have their nose pushed in it at least a few more times before the realization really "takes". The question is where the series goes after Manticore fights the Sollies and destroys Mesa and Manpower. I am sure that something will come up, but who is left? The Andermanni? The Silesians? The Erewhonese? I don't know. Maybe what is left of the Sollies when and if their Empire collapses after this, and whatever becomes of Mesa and the Mesan Alliance. But I'll definitely be reading it.
This book is highly recommended- if you have read the series. If not, you may not understand all the past things alluded to. It's still an excellent book, and should be on your reading list, but your understanding will be a lot deeper if you have read the other books in the series first. Read this series, and read this book. This is tops in military fiction, and well worth the time. I cannot recommend David Weber enough.